SUFFOLK CLASS C FINAL | TUCKERS 25, 27, 25, PANTHERS 20, 25, 21
Playoff pressure is nothing new to the Mattituck High School girls volleyball team. As the team’s coach, Frank Massa, explained, the Tuckers have essentially been playing under pressure through much of the regular season in their efforts to reach the postseason.
They rose to the occasion by qualifying for the playoffs, and then rose to the occasion again on Monday, capturing their fourth county championship in 11 years. During that time they have played in nine county finals.
In their latest, the Tuckers unseated the defending Suffolk County Class C champion, Babylon. The teams had split the two matches they played during the regular season, with each side winning on its home court in three games. Monday’s final was at a neutral site, Patchogue-Medford High School, and it was the Tuckers who appeared to make themselves more at home. With precise serving (they missed only four serves in the match), the Tuckers scored a 25-20, 27-25, 25-21 triumph.
When Babylon couldn’t handle Emily Reimer’s serve, which fell for an ace on match point, the jubilant Tuckers mobbed each other on the court, with hugs and smiles all over.
“It’s amazing,” Mattituck’s junior libero, Julia Orlando, said. “We’re on Cloud Nine. I just can’t even believe it.”
With the victory, Mattituck (9-7) advances to the Long Island regional final against the Nassau County champion on Sunday at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
Mattituck’s consistent serving didn’t give Babylon (9-9) many breaks. The Tuckers may have won the match at the service line, where they went 69 for 73 (94.5 percent). Babylon served 60 for 70 (85.7 percent).
The Tuckers were steady servers. Reimer went 17 for 18 with 4 service aces, but she wasn’t the only Mattituck player serving well. There was Julia Orlando (13 for 13). There was Shannon Dwyer (12 for 13). There was Lizzie Wilcenski (10 for 11). There was Casey Rugnetta (9 for 9). There was Laurel Bertolas (8 for 9).
“I did not see the girls wilt under the pressure at all,” Massa said. “Their serving was outstanding, especially at key times of the match.”
That would include the wild second game, when Mattituck went 24 for 26. Although the Tuckers blew an 18-10 lead, they managed to scratch out the win.
“Crazy, huh?” Massa said. “That was a huge game.”
After a Babylon service error evened the score at 25-25, Bertolas scored on a dink to set up game point. Reimer then popped up a Babylon hit for Dwyer, who put the ball away for the game. The Tuckers had survived two game points.
“That was a close one,” said Dwyer.
Bertolas said, “When they took the lead, that gave us more motivation to want to win even more, and that’s what we did.”
Taking that game swung the odds in Mattituck’s favor dramatically.
“I knew we could do it,” Orlando said. “You just got to dig down deep and know that the girls next to you have your back and that you’ll make it through it.”
Dwyer finished with a match-high 11 kills, and Reimer added 8. In addition, the athletic Dwyer gave Babylon hitters something to think about at the net; she had 4 blocks.
After the game, Dwyer credited the setting she received. Carly Doorhy produced 12 assists and Bertolas had 11.
What makes Mattituck a champion?
“I think that it’s not about all the time how good you are, it’s how bad you want it, and I think we really wanted it,” said Orlando.
The ability to perform under pressure is something else that championship teams have. Those pressure-packed matches the Tuckers played during the regular season seem to have served them well, providing them good preparation for the postseason.
“I think we like the pressure a little bit, which is nice,” said Dwyer.
As is a fourth county championship. It never gets old, even for a veteran coach like Massa, who is in his 27th year in charge of the Tuckers.
“It’s something you don’t forget, especially as a coach,” he said. “You’re not going to forget this. That moment when that last ball hit the ground, that’s frozen in time. You can’t ever take that away from them.”